The great-granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi has been sentenced to seven years in prison in South Africa in connection with a fraud and forgery case involving more than $400,000.
According to multiple reports this week, 56-year-old Ashish Lata Ramgobin was arrested on Monday after a special court in the coastal city Durban convicted her of fraud.
Her family told South African press on Thursday that she plans to appeal the verdict to the Durban High Court.
The case dates back to 2015 when Ramgobin was accused of forging documents to defraud investors over fabric consignments from India. She was arrested then but released on bail.
South African businessman SR Maharaj claims he advanced R6.2 million ($442,000) to Ramgobin in 2015 for a share of profits on a shipping consignment that did not come through. Ramgobin has always denied the allegation.
“She said she was experiencing financial difficulties to pay for import costs and customs and she needed the money to clear the goods at the harbour,” spokesperson Natasha Kara from National Prosecuting Authority - a body that institutes criminal proceedings on behalf of the State - told reporters earlier this week.
Maharaj - whose company finances and takes a cut on shipments - expected profits from three containers of linen coming in for a leading South African medical care provider.
“She sent him what seemed to be a NetCare invoice and delivery note as proof that the goods were delivered and payment was imminent,” Kara said.
According to reports by Press Trust of India, Maharaj entered into a contract for the loan because of Ramgobin’s “family background.” When the shipment didn’t arrive, Maharaj filed a criminal complaint.
Ramgobin’s great-grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi famously fought racial persecution in South Africa in the 1890s and early 1900s. His years of civil rights activism there led him to join the freedom struggle against British colonisers in India in 1947, which eventually earned him the title of India’s Father of the Nation. Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist in 1948 - a year after India became free.
In fact, Ramgobin’s mother Ela Gandhi is a noted rights activist in South Africa. She was also a Member of Parliament from 1994 to 2004.
The Durban special court that looks at white-collar crimes across South Africa has refused the right to appeal the conviction and the sentence. Her mother Ela Gandhi told the South African news site IOL, “My daughter is strong, we stand behind her and are supporting her. We, as a family, are coping under the circumstances and my daughter is also trying to cope.”
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